Monthly Archives: February 2011

Aztec, a computer game for the Apple II

A Quick Look Back: Aztec

It’s not an overstatement to describe Aztec as graphically dazzling, an action-adventure game released originally for the Apple II  and Atari 8-bit computers in 1982, and then a couple of years later for the C64Aztec is all the more remarkable when you consider that most adventure games of the era were limited to mere text to create the atmosphere.

It was designed by Paul Stephenson and distributed by Datamost, a company that produced a few other classic gaming gems, such as Mr. Robot and His Robot Factory in 1983.  Stephenson himself also designed Swashbuckler for the company, released the same year as Aztec.

The Title Screen Sets Us Up For Something Special

A colourful (if one had a colour monitor or TV set attached to their Apple) opening title screen greets you while the game loads.  A couple of screens of white text used to set up the story fool gamers into thinking that perhaps the graphics were a big come-on and that Aztec might be just another text adventure. The text explains that apparently the famed (but unstable)  Professor Von Forster found a lost Aztec temple, but disappeared without further contact.

The player is then presented with a few options, such as choosing either to start a new game or load up a previously saved one.  A difficulty setting is then requested, ranging from 1 if you want to take things easy, all the way up to 8 if one is feeling suicidal.  Charging you with following in the Prof’s footsteps, Aztec then puts the gamer in the scuffed shoes of a fearless adventurer, cutting through all that “red line representing travelling by the air from country to country” rigamarole by opening the gameplay with you standing right outside the Aztec tomb of real-life Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl. With the tap of a key, you descend into the mysterious depths.

Indeed, I DO Dare

The game is essentially a platformer, with large sprites for the adventurer and the various creatures he must dispatch or avoid.  It’s quite a menagerie down there, with spiders, snakes, alligators, Aztec warriors and even dinosaurs calling Quetzalcoal’s tomb home.  While the animations are pretty limited, it’s the details of the artwork that really makes things pop.

There Be Dinosaurs Here

The layout of the tomb is randomized each time you play, and most of your time is spent searching for, opening and looking through boxes and piles of trash on the ground, which can contain weapons, health potions or just the scattered remains of poor Prof. Von Forster.  As you delve deeper the creatures get more dangerous, and the traps more cunning.  The end goal is to snatch a valuable jade idol that is hidden somewhere in the tomb, and then get out with your life.

Fresh Calamari For Dinner Tonight

Helping the creatures in their fight to finish you off is the game’s clunky control method.  Each action is assigned a specific key, so to walk you press “W” and then a direction key, and you’ll keep walking until you hit “S” for stop.  You can also crouch, crawl, plant dynamite, jump, run, climb… it gets to be a bit much fumbling around for each key on the keyboard, although once you get the hang on it you can navigate the tomb quickly while playing the keyboard like a virtuoso pianist. You also can enter a fight mode, where you wield either the machete or a pistol, but often it is unsure why you hit or miss something. The sound isn’t any great shakes either; just the bloops and bleeps from the Apple‘s internal speaker, but this somehow adds to the game’s spartan charms. And being able to blow your way out of a jam with a well placed stick of TNT is a play mechanic that is still fairly unmatched in adventure gaming, decades later.

My Own Remains Will Serve As a Warning To Others

I have a particularly fond memory of Aztec, because when I was going to high school the first computers we got were two Apple II‘s for the science class.  For some reason there was a copy of the game in the library of disks, so every chance I got I put that bad boy into the floppy drive and loaded it up.  After a few times of him catching me and telling me to stop playing games with the computers, the science teacher banned me from the keyboard for a week.  I learned my lesson well; when I regained computer privileges I was more careful he wasn’t around when I played.

Sure, it’s no Uncharted, but at the time, this was as close to living out the Indiana Jones dream as you could get on a computer, with Raiders of the Lost Ark having been released just the year before. Aztec, complete with all its bugs and quirks, makes for an unforgettable Apple II gaming treasure.

Helping Preserve Video Game History

Hoping to find a suitable, convenient display space to house their extensive materials concerning the history of video games and other digital media, MADE or the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment has launched a campaign to raise funds for the endeavor. Kickstarter, the service they are using to drum up the cash, is the Groupon of fundraising; it provides a venue for people to find projects they might be interested in funding, and easily enables them to donate towards the cause.

MADE is based in the San Francisco Bay area, and will showcase playable video game artifacts as well as provide a venue for various gaming events and talks.

A space where gamers can go and physically relive the history of the medium? Sounds like a worthy cause to me.

Follow the Kickstarter link here: http://kck.st/fFXWhb

Box art for computer game Raid Over Moscow

A Quick Look Back: Raid Over Moscow

Glancing over our shoulders to the games that were, we see Raid Over Moscow, released in 1984 by Access Software for the Commodore 64. It was released for most of the other major computer systems of the day the next year.

RoM was done by Bruce Carver, for the company he founded in 1982. This game and the terrific Beach-Head released in 1983 would be enough to put Access into the history books. However, Carver and his brother Roger also did the seminal golf game Leaderboard for the C64, likely the first true golf simulation most people had ever played. Not resting on their laurels, the Brothers Carver would take what they learned from Leaderboard and produce the wildly popular Links series of golf simulations for DOS computers, the first game appearing in 1990. When Access was purchased by Microsoft in 1999, the Links series absorbed Microsoft’s Golf games, continuing as further Links games up to 2003.

RoM puts the player in the shoes of squadron commander of a U.S. space station, on shift just as those godless commies decide to start WWIII. Once a launch as been detected, the clock starts ticking towards nuclear annihilation. You must get your pilots into their futuristic fighter aircraft, out of the hanger of the space station, and down to Earth where they match up against the defences of the city that has launched missiles towards North America.

Once on the ground, you enter a kind of Zaxxony mode where you fly through city defences in a psuedo-3D view. Dodging tanks, helicopters and trailing anti-aircraft missiles, you try and deal as much damage to the city before taking on the Soviet control silos.

With the control silo taken out, you rinse and repeat until you get down to just Moscow. One last run through the city, and you come to the Soviet Defense Center. With your bazooka, you must open the door to the reactor while comrades snipe from the walls and a strange UFO-looking tank tracks your every move. Once you open the white door to the reactor and have cleared out the enemy soldiers, it’s in to the reactor base and a duel with the robot maintenance crew. If you dispatch them with enough time to spare, you escape to fame and glory. If you fail to leave enough time to make it back to your ship, your family will be notified of your heroism.

RoM is one of the more compelling games in the C64 library, even though it is a mish-mash of other games such as the aforementioned Zaxxon, and it is sometimes not obvious what you have to do to continue the mission. The graphics are nice and clean, however, and pretty advanced for a C64 game.

Although I often wonder why the U.S. bothers with fighter jets when they obviously have a team of giants that tower over these fighter jets to do their bidding. They actually have to shrink these big guys before they fit in the jets. Where is the efficiency in that? Just strap rockets to the back of those bad boys and let them at it. And another question to leave you with… why are they wearing tap shoes?

Yar's Revenge, a video game for the Atari 2600 console

Yar’s Return

A remake of Yars’ Revenge, a classic from the Atari 2600 library, is due soon on Xbox Live and PSN.  Originally released for the 2600 in 1981, Yars’ Revenge had started out as a home game licence of Cinematronics’ successful arcade game Star Castle.  Atari programmer Howard Scott Warshaw juggled the play mechanics around when the deal with Cinematronics fell through, and Yars’ Revenge was born.

The sequel boasts updated graphics, of course, but loses the free-wheeling feeling of the original by being a rail-shooter, keeping the player on a straight track from which there isn’t much deviation.  In this regard, it appears much less original than its 2600 brethren.  Expect it to hit consoles soon.

Title screen for Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, a computer RPG by Origin and Lord British

Return of the Avatar

Play Ultima IV online, complete with saves, with this link. It is a slightly updated, but completely faithful version of one of the best Ultima experiences ever. Ultima IV was the first of the vaunted “Avatar” trilogy of Ultima games, and its feeling of epic accomplishment was a gaming revelation.

You can read more about it, Origin, the Ultima series, and Lord British, in this article on TDE.

Bioshock collection, video games

Filming Rapture

Anyone who has played the first two Bioshock games knows that the partially destroyed, underwater city that they are set in, called Rapture by its founder Andrew Ryan, is a big draw of the series. So gamers were jazzed that a film based in this fallen world, helmed by serious director Gore Verbinski, was in the pipeline. But even though Verbinski helmed the first three of the phenomenally successful Pirates of the Caribbean movies, he apparently doesn’t have enough clout to get the Bioshock movie made, in a way that he sees fit for the source material.

Comingsoon.net has an interview with Verbinski, who jumped ship from the Bioshock project two years ago, where he states that the reason for his departure is that he could not raise financing to do the film with an R rating. The combination of a dark vision and the high price tag of creating Rapture evidently sunk the project.

It’s a sad tale, because with all the crap movie adaptations of vaunted video games we get nowadays, the Verbinski Bioshock project looked like it had all the makings of a classic movie of a very special video game. You could also look at the silver lining: at least Verbinski refused to water down the material to meet a PG rating. Current development of the Bioshock movie is unknown.

Portal 2 title, a video game by Valve

Happy V-Day

For the perfect Valentine’s Day present, why not give her a portal… to your heart? Portal 2, sequel to what has to be the most delightful game ever created, is now available for pre-order. And with the new co-operative play mode, you both can have hours of fun jumping into each other’s holes.

Er, that didn’t sound right.

Portal Page

Poster for Tron Legacy, a film by Disney 2010

Continuing Legacy

Watched Tron: Legacy for a second time last night, with friends.  Everyone agreed it was a good movie, that like its predecessor has a lot to say above making a lot of noise, looking good, and selling toys.

While the original Tron strived to create a religious allegory out of the world of computers, its sequel creates a parallel between the quest for digital perfection and Nazi puritanism.    Flynn attempts to create the perfect system, but in the end realizes that his son represents his greatest creation.

And yes, it’s easy on the eyes, to boot.